Author Archives: amoyaan
Life is nothing but the unending dance of karma. Karma is the engine that drives phenomenal existence; an unfathomably immense, interwoven chain of causes and effects that stretches all the way back to the origin of the universe.
Karma is an interesting topic, albeit one that’s frequently misinterpreted and misunderstood. Karma is a term that originates in the oldest of the ancient Indian Vedas, and which has gone on to greatly influence other traditions (including Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, etc) and in recent decades has even come to permeate Western popular culture.
In fact, a few years ago a popular US sitcom called My Name is Earl based its entire premise on karma; featuring a well-intentioned redneck attempting to systematically clear his karma by atoning for his past misdeeds. It was a charming and genuinely funny show and it did an interesting job of tackling the law of cause and effect. The show was at times a little confused in its approach to the topic, often depicting karma as some kind of supernatural deity or force, deliberately testing and teasing Earl as he tried to balance his karmic record. As often happens when concepts and ideas are appropriated and decontextualised by foreign cultures, things tend to get a little distorted in translation as two different world-views collide.
Karma is action
Karma is actually pretty simple, although it is a subtle, nuanced topic, open to misinterpretation.
So what actually is karma? Karma is a Sanskrit word that literally means “action”.
Everything we do is karma. Our lives are basically non-stop karma — from brushing our teeth first thing in the morning to switching our bedside light off at night. Karma refers not just to physical actions but also subtle actions, such as the thoughts we think, the desires we entertain and the intentions we hold.
Karma of course takes into account not only these actions, but the corresponding effects of those actions; on the body, mind and the world around us. Karma refers to cause and effect, action and reaction, and the inextricable relationship between the two. In common usage most people use the word karma to refer to the consequences of an action, but karma actually encapsulates both the cause and the effect, the action and the result, because the two are are inseparable.
Everything we think, say and do is a result of past karma and everything we think, say and do creates additional karma. Whatever karmas we perform, whatever actions we do, creates an impression not only on the world around us, but in our own psyche as we will learn — and these impressions can be positive or negative depending on whether they create helpful or harmful results and tendencies.
Good and bad karma
Good karma is called punya karma and bad karma is called papa karma. If I do something kind for someone with a pure motive, I will get punya: the other person will be grateful and appreciative and I will feel good about myself. This person may even be inclined to do something thoughtful for me return. If I do the same charitable act but with an impure motive (such as perhaps wanting to manipulate the person in some way), I am likely to generate papa: I’ll be unhappy if the other person doesn’t respond in the way I wanted them to and I probably won’t derive any joy from their gratitude because making them happy was not my intention. So the karma we accrue is largely based on motive.
If I was to go out and rob a bank or assault someone, I would most certainly be generating papa karma. Sooner or later I will be held accountable for my actions. The police will catch up with me and throw me in jail and I will also have to deal with the varying levels of psychological misery I’ve created for myself and others. Karma rebounds on both the gross and subtle levels; not only physically, but psychologically and spiritually.
Karma and vasanas
So what is it that drives us to perform and accumulate either good or bad karma? The simple answer is what we’ve done before. Our karma is driven by our past actions. As mentioned before, the karma we perform—the actions we do and thoughts we think—creates impressions not just in the world around us, like throwing pebbles into a lake, but also at the core of our own psyche.
Whenever we perform an action, be it gross (physical action) or subtle (on the level of thought), it creates an imprint, a groove in consciousness called a vasana. The more we do something, the stronger the vasana gets and the more likely we will be to repeat the action in the future. If I eat a delicious slice of chocolate cake for the first time and I enjoy it, it immediately creates a vasana, a little imprint in consciousness. From that point on, the more I eat chocolate cake, the more I reinforce that chocolate cake vasana and the stronger it becomes until it begins to drive my actions.
This initiates a quite unconscious cycle of vasana-kama-karma, whereby the unconscious imprint (vasana) creates desire (kama) which compels me to act on it (karma). And of course, by acting out the desire and scoffing yet another slice of cake, I only reinforce that cake vasana and the cycle continues.
The human psyche is driven by the vasanas. Most of the time we are just big vasana machines, our vasanas governing our desires and aversions, which are then acted out as karma—which then self-replicates, reinforcing itself again and again. It takes a significant level of self-awareness to get become aware of and to change these behavioural patterns; to master our karma.
The three types of karma
Vedanta outlines three different types of karma: sanchita karma, prarabdha karma and kriyamana karma.
Sanchita karma is karma in its seed state, caused by actions we have performed in the past, leaving a store of either positive (punya) or negative (papa) impressions in the causal body, or the unconscious. The causal body is the root of all the vasanas, the tendencies to act out our desires and aversions. This is karma which has accumulated over lifetimes is stored in subtle form, in a dormant seed state that has yet to fructify.
From the seed state we move to prarabdha karma, which is the portion of sanchita that will sprout and fructify in a particular lifetime. Prarabdha is accordingly responsible for determining the constitution of our character and personality and the experiences it magnetises. When the prarabdha eventually burns out, the body is shed.
The third type of karma is kriyamana or agami karma, which is the karma we happen to be creating in the present. Whether punya or papa, the seeds all get added to the store of sanchita, which will then fructify at a later time, and thus the cycle continues.
Determinism and free will
Karma is a mechanism that explains the immense variety evident in human beings from the time of infancy onward; not just in terms of psychological makeup, but even the striking diversity found in physical bodies. It weaves the fabric of our lives, forming the very structure of our psyche. This may sound deterministic and it is to a degree. We like to think we are agents of free will, but when I reach out to grab a slice of cake is it actually me that’s making that decision or is it my cake vasana, the subtle karma based on past actions that generates that almost uncontrollable urge to gorge myself on irresistible cake?
Neurologists have now shown that our decisions are made before we even think we’ve consciously made them. That is the power of our vasanas, the pull of past karma. Yet human beings are unique in that they do apparently have a degree of free will. Understanding the mechanics of karma can be liberating when we realise that by following right action and generating punya, we have the ability to shape our future within the limits of whatever prarabdha is outworking. We do this by following dharma, which is an innate, universal and in-built code of right action (an important topic which ties in with karma, and which I will cover in a separate article).
Some people view karma as a kind of cosmic force of reward and punishment, but the truth is subtler than that. Karma is simply the law of causation and consequence. Even the smallest stone thrown into a pond creates ripples. The law of karma is completely impersonal, a system of innumerable factors endlessly operating in this, the field of phenomenal existence. Karma is no different to gravity in that sense; it works impersonally and for everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you throw something in the air, gravity will bring it back down to earth.
Sometimes it can be perplexing when we see people who are clearly not the most virtuous of characters but who seem to get away with lying, cheating and stealing while enjoying success, power and prestige. Ultimately everyone is accountable for their actions, for their karma, whether punya or papa, will definitely fructify and at some point catch up with that person. But it may not happen immediately; the karma may be worked out at a later time. It could be that such an individual is running off some positive punya karma, which will of course eventually run out.
There have been a number of cases in the news lately of well-known celebrities and entertainers who were pedophiles and yet through the punya generated by significant charity work and the like, managed to get away with their actions for decades. But once the good karma has run out, the bad karma catches up with them and they are forced to atone for their actions.
Karma and Reincarnation
For many, karma is synonymous with reincarnation. Reincarnation is a subtle topic, far subtler than most people generally understand it, and depends really on how you look at it. Creation exists by constantly cycling and recycling itself, for matter cannot be created or destroyed, only altered into different forms. Clearly this happens to the physical body at the time of death. The matter of our bodies will disperse and change form to become all manner of new forms. But what of our consciousness? Will the person I am now reincarnate into another life? According to Vedanta, the answer is yes but no.
The person I am now is unique to this life. This person has a name, a certain physical body, was born and lives in a certain place, has certain parents and friends and circumstances that are unique to him and that have shaped his experience of life. He can’t reincarnate because, if I were to go through careful analysis, I can’t even prove that he’s ‘real’ to begin with. If I was to try to find and point out this person called Rory, I’d be in for a real challenge. I’d be able to find assorted components…a body is sitting here, and there are certain thoughts and memories and desires and aversions arise in awareness, but where is ‘Rory’ in any of this? It’s impossible to pin him down. All I can find is a baseline awareness and certain components appearing in awareness that I lump together and label ‘Rory’.
In a future incarnation, what will I be? I won’t be the person I am now. I won’t have the same memories, I’ll have a different body, a different name, different parents and circumstances, a different environment, different circumstances and different prarabdha karma to work out. So, the person I think I am won’t reincarnate. All that’s actually here to begin with is awareness appearing to be a person through a certain body and mind, which functions as what is called an upadhi — a limiting adjunct, something that makes one thing appear to take on the appearance and qualities of something else (in this case making limitless awareness appear to be a person).
So what does reincarnate? Karma — in the form of the vasanas; the content of the causal body/unconscious. Awareness will have a different form, a different name and wholly different circumstances, assuming the guise of a whole new person, and from the store of sanchita, different karmic seeds will sprout. Heck, perhaps if I don’t resolve it in this lifetime, the cake vasana will be back…
It’s important to note that we can break the cycle at any time as we can transcend karma with jnanam — knowledge. That’s what Vedanta is for; a sophisticated, time-tested means of Self knowledge which, when assimilated by a prepared mind, leads to moksha, or liberation. The cycle of personal karma is brought about by an ultimately erroneous sense of doership, caused by taking ourselves (awareness) to be something that we’re not (the person/mind-body complex). (The issue of doership is a crucial understanding in Vedanta and is beyond the purvey of a single article, as it requires careful and deliberate unfolding, utilising the unexamined logic of one’s own experience).
To be Self-realised is simply to shift one’s sense of identity from the doer/mind-body complex back to the Self, which is pure awareness; that which ever-witnesses and transcends the phenomenal. In doing so, the jnani, the Self-realised being, is no longer bound by the wheel of karma; karma is now impersonal. In some ways the jnani is like an animal, living in complete accord with his or her own nature, free from karma because with no sense of autonomous doership, there is nothing to bind him/her. Prarabdha karma still plays itself out for the duration of the incarnation, but the store of sanchita is void, because there’s no one to take ownership of it; like a parcel sent to a house in which no one lives anymore.
As James Swartz says in his commentary of Shankara’s Tattva Bodha (available here):
“Just as the dreamer becomes free of all actions he or she performed in the dream on waking up, the realised soul is freed from sanchita and agami karma when he or she wakes up to the knowledge “I am whole and complete, actionless awareness”. Even the prarabdha karmas that fructify in his life will not affect him. Just as a man who views himself in a distorted or concave mirror knows that he is free from the limitations of the distorted image, a Self-realised soul also knows that he is not bound by the limitations of the body and the mind.”
In conclusion, karma is a key understanding in helping us make sense of action and reaction, cause and effect and how every single action generates both seen and unseen consequences. At its most basic level, it seems absurdly simple: do good things and we’ll accrue good results. But a more thorough and nuanced understanding helps explain why we tend to behave the way we do and how the momentum of our past actions, in thought, word and deed, influence us in the present moment and indeed how they affect our future.
I’m grateful to Janet Adams for contributing the following post on the topic of karma. I’ll be adding my own thoughts in my next post, in which I hope to demystify this familiar but widely misunderstood concept.
Karma: East and West Perspectives
by Janet Adams
Most people have some familiarity with the Vedic concept of karma. Many exotic concepts entered the consciousness of Westerners during the Romantic period of the 1800’s. The counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s reintroduced the use of these spiritual and philosophical terms, and the New Age Movement has continued the legacy. Karma is the physical manifestation of the law of cause and effect; and balance and harmony. It applies to the results of decisions reached and the attitude held by human beings, who have free will and choice. Karmic experience offers an individual to reconsider choices, attitudes and actions held to see if these decisions are founded in alignment with the laws of the system.
Karma might be seen as basically a gap in your understanding. Karma facilitates knowledge and understanding and only applies to the human kingdom, for people have the ability to exercise free will and to change results to suit them. Karma presents people with the opportunity to create results in relation to what they want. It encompasses the urge to know more about feelings and actions; the necessity to experience an action more fully and form different levels of understanding so that one’s knowledge and understanding grows. Karma guides people to align their thoughts and intent with the balance of coexistence. This makes it possible for people to project more harmonious thought and intent, which can then manifest through the materials, tools and processes of creation.
Karma cautions people against wrong doing and in turn presents them with the opportunity to do better. People live, exploring all forms of materiality through better understanding, learning how to influence, alter and maintain these forms in equilibrium and harmony. Evolution is crucial in enhancing people’s understanding and knowledge. The law of karma makes it possible for people to understand their experiences and to balance them out.
The concept of karma originated in the Vedic system of religion known to the West as Hinduism. In its major conception, karma refers to the physical, mental and spiritual system of neutral rebound or cause and effect, inherent within the bounds of time, space and causation. Human beings’ experience is governed by an immutable preservation and interplay of energy, vibration and actions. It is comparable to the golden rule that denies the chance of depending on fate for reservation of credible incidences. Western conceptions are attributed with absolute reason and determinism to the working of the cosmos.
Karma naturally implies reincarnation since thoughts and deeds in past lives will affect one’s current situation. Humanity comprises a collective grouping of karma and individuals in some cases might be seen as responsible for the tragedies and fortunes they experience, although the workings of karma are rather subtler than this. The concept of an inscrutable God figure is not necessary with the law of karma. It is vital to note that karma is not an instrument of a god, but rather the physical and spiritual physics of existence. As gravity governs the motions of heavenly bodies and objects on the surface of the earth, karma governs the motions and happenings of life, both inanimate and animate. Karma governs the unconscious and conscious, generating tendencies and actions that perpetuate.
Destiny and fate are better understood through the workings of karma. Many people have likened karma to a moral banking system, credit and debit of good and bad. Karma is both the root that binds and that which helps people escape bondage, through the performance of good deeds and noble intentions, using the functioning of cause and effect to to their highest advantage.
Janet Adams is a writer with a Masters Degree in Educational Science, who now uses her writing skills to serve students with an inexpensive essay writing service which helps college students in building a successful academic writing career.
It’s been a while. I’m sorry for such heinous blog neglect. Here’s a little update.
I’ve been working hard on my next novel, which is an extensive rewrite of a book I first drafted some years ago, called The Key of Alanar. I’ve already shared a little bit about this particular journey here. It’s a story that’s been with me since I was only about sixteen, and one that’s very close to my heart. I consider the version I wrote before to be a kind of skeleton version. I’m a better a writer now so it’s been interesting going back to revisit and resurrect it. While it’s the still same story with the same characters, I’ve added bits, taken bits away and endeavoured to make the prose tidier and the characterisation punchier.
I’ve found that it’s actually harder to go back and rewrite something from the past than it is to write something new from scratch. In many ways I’m a different person now and if I was to create it from scratch it would probably reflect that. It’s nevertheless something I’m very pleased with. It’s a real journey, a journey of the human spirit — from loss and lack through darkness and despair, to eventual redemption and wholeness. Sadistic as it sounds, I take my central character and torture him relentlessly, stripping everything away from him and putting him at the mercy of all kinds of demons, both inner and outer. I feel the ending is going to need some substantial adjustment to reflect changes in my own understanding since I first wrote it. It’ll be interesting. I’m looking forward to being able to share the book with the world, hopefully by the end of the year. It’s pretty epic in every regard.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my head down, studying, living and practising the teaching of vedanta, which is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever found in my life. Neither philosophy nor religion but a pramana, systematic and very logical means of self knowledge, vedanta has been leading people for thousands of years from the suffering to wholeness, simply by reorienting one’s point of self-identification from body/mind/emotions/ego/intellect (which are all objects perceivable to us) to awareness (that which perceives; the eternal subject). The moment I stumbled across vedanta, I realised I’d found what I’d been looking for for the best part of a lifetime. I knew instinctively that if this didn’t work for me, nothing would. And, assuming certain psychological qualifications are in place and one is committed to putting in the time and energy to make it work, it does actually work! I’ve seen it work on myself and others. It is the closest I’ve ever found to a science of consciousness and self realisation — and I speak as someone who studied psychology at degree level. It’s the greatest of gifts and I’m going to share some of my journey and what I’ve learned on this blog as and when I get the chance.
Until then I have a guest post to share on the nature of karma, and I will follow it up with my own post to clarify certain points and demystify something that just about every has heard of but which few understand properly, even in the world of spirituality. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. It’s beautiful here. Every day is a gift.
The problem really isn’t life. The problem is our attitude to life. Life is simply what it is and it does what it does. It’s value neutral; a machine that just churns out experiences and events based upon an unfathomably complex chain of cause and effect dating all the way back to the origins of the universe and space/time.
There’s nothing personal about what happens.
The problem comes when we expect life to match up to our likes and dislikes, our wants and desires. We want life to be what we want it to be. But life doesn’t care what we want. Why should it? It’s so inconceivably vast and it’s got a heck of a lot on its plate, so our petty little likes and dislikes simply don’t factor into the equation. It gives us what we need and our experience is based upon innumerable factors and the fructification of so many past events, actions and karma.
That’s the nature of the machine–and this was a pretty horrifying realisation for me! I didn’t really want to hear that. It’s certainly not what they told us in The Secret. But since I don’t suddenly have the bank balance of Bill Gates, the sales figures of JK Rowling or the blissful radiance of Ramana Maharshi…I can conclude that the universe doesn’t quite work like The Secret would purport. It would seem a more mature perspective is this: life is what it is; and we can get with the program or suffer. Ouch. There are certain little things that I can change, but most things I cannot, and that includes my basic nature and the basic nature of life and others, which I simply have to accept, embrace and find a way to work around.
Life is pretty amazing. It’s given us everything. We were provided with a body, which is simply the most incredible feat of engineering in the universe. We were given a lifetime supply of oxygen, water and food…and we don’t have to do anything with it; our bodies know precisely how to distribute oxygen through our bloodstream and how to digest food and poop and sleep and all the rest of it. We were given parents and taken care of during our formative years. We were given people to love us, take care of us, as well as people to challenge us, force us to grow and learn and become all we can be. Yeah, life isn’t always easy, to put it mildly. But we’re never given challenges we can’t deal with. Speaking for myself, I have recently seen how the most difficult things, people and relationships in my life have been like the grit in the oyster that in time alchemises to create something beautiful and precious.
I was walking down the road the other week and it was raining. I noticed a neighbour had left out their washing, which was now soaking wet. I mused how twisted life can seem that way: we want one thing to happen (dry washing!) but life has other ideas. Then I saw that some little red tulips had seeded themselves in a flower bed outside my front door. And I realised how incredible life is; always sending beautiful little surprises our way, unbidden, unexpected — and sadly, for many people, often unnoticed. Next time it’s a clear night I recommend taking a look up at the starry sky. If that isn’t one of the most amazing gifts, then I don’t know what is.
So life gives us everything. It does everything. We don’t own any of it, either. It’s all just on loan to us, including our bodies. Realising that everything we have, and everything we appear to be is just a temporary loan and NOT something we’re ‘entitled’ to, not something that belongs to us, really shifts our attitude to life.
For me it has helped cultivate a real sense of wonder…and gratitude. Knowing that I’m not owed anything and that I don’t and can’t own anything here, makes me grateful for all the simple, everyday blessings that are all around. We have so much; more than we could ever realise. We actually need very little to get by in life, infinitely less than our hyper-consumer culture would have us believe.
It takes a clear mind to see things this way. When my mood gets low I might start to slip into seeing things through a darkened lens again. It’s easy to do that when the media feeds us nothing but the darkest and most disturbing aspects of human life and society via news outlets. That exists, sadly, yes. But it exists largely because we don’t know who we are…we don’t know how blessed we are to be alive…and because we buy into a vicious consumer mindset that conditions us to believe that no matter how much we have, we need more and better, leaving us perpetually dissatisfied, unfulfiled and empty. To me, the deluded mindset of materialism, consumerism and the unbridled capitalism that is causing such destruction to the planet, is no less than a crime against the human spirit. Even just seeing this, however, allows us to begin to transcend transform it.
Life is beautiful. We are beautiful. That’s the simple truth. Remember that, and have a great day.
One of the best bits of advice I was ever given was this:
When you’re feeling low emotionally, don’t take your thoughts too seriously.
When our state of consciousness has dipped, our thinking is not clear; it becomes cloudy and distorted. We then tend to see the world as an unequivocally terrible place and we focus on the very worst in ourselves and in others. Whereas, when we feel lighter, freer and happier emotionally, our outlook and our view of the world/ourselves/others is radically different. It’s the very same world we’re inhabiting, and our situation and circumstances and those around us may be exactly the same…but we can see things in a far clearer, more balanced way.
Which suggests it’s not really the world that we actually experience — it’s our thinking that we experience. If we can ride out the storm and just take it easy until things balance out, then our minds will naturally be clearer, freer and more capable of making objective discernments and decisions.
I know it’s so easy to let our emotional state cripple us. I really love the Bhagavad Gita. It starts with Arjuna throwing his hands in the air as he’s about to go into battle and saying “to hell with this! I quit! I give up! I’m not gonna do this.” By his own admission his mind is “a mess” and he can’t see anything clearly anymore.
What does Krishna tell him? Basically this: “hey, you’re letting your emotions override your judgement and blind you to your duty, to your responsibilities and to your purpose. You’re wallowing in self-pity and this is unbecoming of the great soul that you are! Get up and do what you gotta do! Fight!”
This is maybe not the advice we want to hear but sometimes we need a splash of cold water in the face. The war of the Gita is a metaphor for the war we face every single day; the war being waged in our own minds and psyche. It’s the war between doing what we’re meant to do — following our dharma and pandering to the petty little likes and dislikes, desires and fears of the mind. I often think of it as the self-created disparity between who we are and who we choose to be in our daily lives.
It’s tremendously stressful and what we’re actually experiencing is an internal civil war. We’re pulled in different directions; our heart leading us in one direction and our unconscious conditioning leading us in the opposite direction. The result is confusion, pain and suffering and often an almost crippling sense of anxiety or depression. Modern society doesn’t give us any signposts with regard to our dharma…it’s too messed up by capitalism, materialism, greed and consumerism. In fact modern society is a large part of the problem, so we have to look beyond it…
In the next post I will reflect a bit more on the nature of the the problem and the age-old conflict of me vs life.
- 48 -
One who seeks knowledge
learns something new each day.
One who seeks the Tao
unlearns something new each day.
The practice of the Tao consists of daily diminishing;
less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
True mastery is achieved
by letting things take their natural course.
Often people talk about the things they’ve learned or acquired in life, whether it’s information, knowledge, objects or experience. The Tao Te Ching asks us to consider that perhaps the real key is unlearning things. It’s often the case that more we think we know, the less we actually do know. And so Lao Tzu is asking us to substitute our practice of daily accumulating for daily diminishing. Instead of continually adding to ourselves and our supposed knowledge of the world, we are actually subtracting from ourselves and letting go of all the things we think we know. Only in this state of complete openness can we approach the Tao, in much the same way that only an empty vessel can be filled.
From the moment we’re born, we are conditioned and socialised into the ‘ways of the world’ or, rather the ways of the particular society we’re born into. As children we’re like sponges, continually soaking in new information and knowledge; a lot of it useful and necessary, but much of it erroneous and harmful. There comes a point in our lives when we have to challenge the conditioning of our formative years, particularly if it is of a dysfunctional nature. This is where it becomes especially helpful to take on the practice of daily diminishing: consciously letting go of old thoughts, beliefs, habits, world-views and conditioned ways of seeing things and responding to life.
The less encumbered we are with the viewpoints, opinions and belief systems instilled in us, the freer we are and the easier it is to have a direct experience of reality as it is, without having our view of everything distorted by our various mental filters. The practice of daily diminishing makes it easier to enter the flow of life, to allow all things to be as they are, bestowing life the freedom to be what it is, and to recognise that we are not separate from any aspect of it.
- 47 -
Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the way of heaven.
The further you go,
the less you know.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you understand.
The Sage understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.
The further you travel, the more you strive and the more knowledge you try to accumulate, the further you actually distance yourself from realising the Tao. For Lao Tzu tells us the answers are not to be found ‘out there’, but only within ourselves. So, how is it possible to know the whole world and the way of the Tao without venturing outside our door? Why are we always told that the answers are within us?
Knowledge usually relates to the realm of facts, figures and quantifiable information. Truth or wisdom goes beyond mere information. When we seek truth, we seek to differentiate between reality and illusion. Only with truth, or Self-knowledge can we hope to understand the nature of our existence. We can gather as many facts and statistics about the apparent world as we like (and, yes, we actually can know the whole world without even leaving our house — by simply logging onto the internet!), but that doesn’t mean we know anything about the true nature of reality, only the realm of appearance.
From within the dream, we can learn everything there is to know about the dream itself, but that doesn’t mean we know that we’re dreaming or are aware of anything beyond the dream. Surface-level knowledge is of limited use. Truth, however, points to a deeper reality; that which exists prior to and beyond the dream-state.
So why is the truth to be found within us? Perhaps it is because we are the microcosm of the macrocosm. We are each miniature universes and contained within us are all the wonders and truths of the larger universe. The two are not separate. There is no ‘us’ and ‘the rest of the universe’. All such notions are but dualistic delusions created by the mind. The secrets of the universe and life are within us because we are the universe and we are life. There is no separation.
Everything that we perceive to be out there is only an appearance in our awareness. Awareness is the unifying factor. Without awareness, there would be no experience and no universe. The key is to explore the nature of that awareness and consciousness itself. Trace it to its source: know it, understand it and thus know and understand the baseline substratum on which all the experiences of your life—and the world and universe—appear like images on photographic film.
Seeking outwardly has a tendency to take us deeper into the dream occurring in consciousness. As Carl Jung said: “he who looks outside dreams, he who looks inside awakens.”
- 46 -
When a country is in harmony with the Tao
running horses are retired to till the fields.
When a country runs counter to the Tao
warhorses are bred outside the cities.
There is no greater calamity than
not knowing what is enough,
no greater curse than covetousness,
no greater tragedy than discontentment;
and the worst of all faults is wanting more – always.
Contentment alone is enough.
Indeed, the bliss of eternity
can be found in your contentment.
War is counter to the nature of the Tao. Its root is fear, the need to defend oneself (or as is usually the case, the need to defend one’s beliefs and viewpoints), greed, discontentment and our pathological craving for more and more. These afflictions of the mind lead us to conflict, war and eventual ruin.
Lao Tzu tells us that to be content with what we have is the key to the “bliss of eternity”. Contentment sows the seeds of happiness, never of conflict and war.
Our challenge is therefore to let go of the need to make ourselves right and others wrong, and to relinquish any tendencies toward greed and covetousness and be content with what we possess. This doesn’t mean we should never pursue anything in life, but that because we know that we’re already whole and complete, we’re clear that no object, acquisition or experience can make us any more or less than we innately are.
This could well be the choice between living in heaven or hell — both of which are states of mind. It’s a choice that no one else can make for us. It’s one that we must make each and every moment of our lives.
- 45 -
The greatest perfection seems imperfect,
yet its use is inexhaustible.
The greatest fullness seems empty,
yet its use is endless.
True straightness seems crooked.
True skill appears clumsy.
True eloquence seems awkward.
True wisdom seems foolish.
Stillness and tranquility set things in order
in the universe.
The Sage allows things to happen.
He shapes events as they come.
He steps out of the way
and allows the Tao to speak for itself.
Truth rarely comes in the shape and form it is expected. The function of the mind is to divide, compartmentalise and categorise that which is ultimately indivisible. Thus we fail to understand that seeming imperfection is part of an overriding perfection and the emptiness at the core of our being is actually the fullness of life in all its splendor.
We also tend to keep looking for things in all the wrong places. Because the mind has a notion of what life is, what it should to be and its assorted notions of right and wrong, true and false, it’s easy to miss the obvious and be deceived by the paradoxes of life. This verse invites us to consider the possibility that the greatest wisdom, perfection and truth might actually be the opposite of what we assume it to be.
The final paragraph re-emphasizes the way of the Sage, he or she who is at one with life. When the ‘person’ is set aside, the Tao is allowed to flow through the space previously occupied by notions of selfhood and ego. Stepping out the way means letting go of the ego’s need to be in the driving seat, and allowing the process of life, the Tao, to flow as it naturally does, unhindered, unobstructed. We then become like a flute, through which the breath of life sounds its melody. When we stop, allow and listen, it becomes clear that life is not so much coming from us as it is coming through us.
It’s been over 3 months since I posted one of these! Wow. I’ll get back to it now. My Tao Te Ching verses and commentary are collected in the following volume, now available as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords. A print edition is coming soon!